Is it OK to take photographs of my grumpy sheep?

October 18

It’s that time of year again –the sense of excitement is palpable. You wait with baited breath for your young child to step out onto the stage (Johnny got the part of the grumpy sheep in the school nativity and you could not be prouder). You reach into your pocket and pull out your phone to take a picture. But then something niggles you. Didn’t Molly’s mum get told off by another parent for taking photographs of ‘their’ child at the Harvest Festival last year? Or was she told off by a teacher? You can’t really remember but you don’t want to be the next ‘Molly’s mum’ so you swiftly put your phone away. 

 Taking photographs of children (whether your own child or another persons’) has become an increasingly contentious issue, particularly following the rise of social media. But if my toddler runs off across the park, in the lush green grass, covered in white ice cream and chasing a vivid red balloon, do I really need to worry about someone else’s child ‘photobombing’ my picture? And do schools have to be concerned about parents taking photographs of children during school plays or on sports day? Can they really restrict you from doing so? 

 It is the mistaken belief of many parents that their permission is required for someone to take a photograph of their child in a public place. There is no such law and, provided the photograph is not ‘indecent’ (which is illegal, regardless of who is taking the photograph and whether it is taken in public or private), someone can take a photograph of your child in a public place without your permission. However, as with any blanket statement there are always caveats – for example, if someone is persistently pursuing you or your child to take photographs they may be in contravention of harassment legislation. Equally, if the photograph is published on a social media site without appropriate privacy restrictions, this may give rise to a question regarding the purpose of the photograph or whether the publication of it infringes your child’s rights to privacy or data protection. 

 Schools, however, are not public places, they are private, even when maintained by the Local Authority. They have the right to prohibit photographs being taken by parents of children on site. 

 I am sure you have heard the lamentations of many parents who imply that the school is ‘hiding behind’ safeguarding as the reason for this ban. They tend to think it’s a bit ‘OTT.’ More often than not, safeguarding is indeed why schools limit the taking of photographs by parents, or certainly one of the reasons, and it’s a valid one. It is not about safeguarding Johnny or Molly from their parents’ smartphones. It is about safeguarding all of the children, whose individual circumstances are known to the school but unlikely to be known to parents at large. What if Molly’s mum had unwittingly taken a photograph with another child in the background and posted it on social media, when that child was being ‘looked after’ by the Local Authority for its own protection. What would happen to the child if Molly’s mum posted said photograph on social media, identifying the child’s school. Whilst this might seem like an extreme example, it does happen and therefore schools are entitled and must take measures to limit risk, and the level of risk may change with cohort, which is reflected in the updating of school policies. 

 Finally, unless expressly stated, a permission slip signed by you giving permission to the school to take photographs of your child provides a blanket permission for all parents to take photographs whilst on the school site. It is likely that the permission slip was actually for the school’s benefit in processing your child’s data (the photograph) and will usually set out circumstances in which the school can use the data, by putting it on their website or social media, putting it up around the school, for example. It does not therefore automatically give parent’s permission to take photographs ad hoc unless it expressly says so.



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